Hartsville scored two runs in the seventh inning Monday night in the decisive game of the Class 3A lower state championship for a 6-4 victory over Gilbert.
The Red Foxes forced the second game after winning game one 7-3.
It was a dramatic ending after Gilbert rallied to tie the game at four when Caleb Watkins hit a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning to allow the Indians to tie it before the Red Foxes responded in the top of the seventh.
The Red Foxes scored four runs in the first inning of each game to help set the tone, but it was the way they responded after giving up the four-run lead in the second game that was most impressive.
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Hartsville loaded the bases with no outs and got the go-ahead run on a RBI single past a drawn-in infield by Jake Beasley. They later added a run on a wild pitch to advance to the Class 3A state championship series for the second straight season.
“We’ve played like this the last two or three weeks,” Hartsville coach Tony Gainey said. “We’ve had close ball games and battled back, so we’re no stranger to this type of game. Our pitcher missed his spot and their guy broke a couple of tree limbs in left field. But we hadn’t hit the ball since the first inning so we were due. That’s a great team and to come over here to get two wins is huge.”
Gilbert coach Ashley Burnett credited Hartsville for going on the road and winning twice.
“We played 14 innings and didn’t trail in just one of those,” he said. “It’s tough to start out both games down 4-0 in the first. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your team. They got the timely hits when they needed them and we didn’t.”
The Red Foxes will face the winner of Camden and Belton-Honea Path starting on Thursday. Camden and BHP were rained out and will play Tuesday night. Camden must win twice to advance, while BHP on needs one victory to move on.
“We got this far last year and got beat up by A.C. Flora, so it’s nice to be back,” Gainey said.
Hartsville (29-2) opened the decisive second game by sending 10 hitters to the plate in the first inning. Austin Morris reached on an error to open the frame, and Toby Burchfield was hit by a pitch. Chandler Melton delivered an RBI double to score Morris.
The Indians had a chance to get an out at the plate on a grounder to third by Matt Lynch, but the throw was up the first base line, allowing Burchfield to score. Christopher Weekley had an RBI single and Andrew Coker added a sacrifice fly before relief pitcher Jackson Dennis limited the damage.
“Jackson did extremely well,” Burnett said. “That was huge for us because he gave us a fighting shot after getting down big in the first inning.”
Burchfield was dominant in the first five innings before tiring in the sixth. The hard-throwing right-hander allowed five hits in five-plus innings and struck out five and walked one.
But he gave way to Matt Lynch, who allowed the game-tying grand slam before getting a 1-2-3 seventh inning to earn the victory.
Coker was just as impressive in the opener, where he improved to 9-1. The junior right-hander scattered seven hits and allowed two earned runs in the complete game effort. He struck out five with one walk.
Hartsville again used a four-run first inning to take control. Lynch delivered a two-run double before Cal Brunson added a sacrifice fly to score a run. Weekley added an RBI single as the Red Foxes sent eight to the plate in the first inning.
Gilbert (23-7) scored two runs in the third inning. A single and error opened the inning before Josh Tedder sacrificed the runners to second and third with one out. Patrick Price plated the first run with an RBI groundout before Caleb Watkins delivered a run-scoring double.
Hartsville put the game away with a three-run fifth inning. Burchfield singled before Chandler Melton and Lynch walked to load the bases with one out. The Indians replaced Allen Geddings on the mound and reliever Ben Copeland walked in a run, allowed a sacrifice fly to Weekley and a run-scoring single to Coker before getting out of the jam.
Game One: Hartsville 7, Gilbert 3
W: Andrew Coker. L: Allen Geddings (6-2). Hitters: H – Toby Burchfield 2-4; Matt Lynch 3-4. G – Caleb Watkins 2-4; Geddings 2-3; Mark Kneece 2-3.
Game Two: Hartsville 6 Gilbert 4
W: Matt Lynch. L: Jackson Dennis. Hitters: H – Grant Thompson 2-3; Chandler Melton 2-4; Lynch 3-4; Christopher Weekley 2-3; Jake Beasley 2-4. G – Ryan Knowles 2-3, Caleb Watkins HR, 4 RBI.